Meet the quokkas: the perfect day trip to Rottnest Island
Planning a day trip to Rottnest Island? A visit to ‘Rotto’ is one of the top things to do in Perth. There’s beautiful, peaceful beaches to explore and of course, the chance to see the world’s happiest marsupial up close.
Discover how to plan a fantastic trip and make the most of your time on this unique island.
Rottnest Island (Wadjemup) is a small island off the coast of Western Australia. It’s known for its beautiful beaches, scenic swimming spots and its population of quokkas.
If you’re like quokka, wut? – You can’t have been spending much time on the internet for the last few years.
These adorable marsupials are endemic to Western Australia and are mostly found on Rottnest Island and Bald Island near Albury, although there are a few colonies living on the mainland between that regional city and Perth.
Quokkas became Internet-famous due to the shape of their mouths – when they angle their faces a certain way, they look like they are quite simply, beaming.
This has earned them the nickname of “the happiest animal on the planet”.
You can see these cute critters on a day trip to Rottness Island – although they’re not the only reason to visit this gorgeous stretch of land.
Rottnest Island is easily accessible by ferry from several ports in Perth.
Read on to discover everything you need to know to plan the perth-fect Rottnest Island day trip. And here’s a Perth itinerary you can use, to plan your time in the WA capital.
How to have a fabulous day trip to Rottnest Island
First, some background.
Wadjemup’s traditional owners are the Whadjuk Noongar people. The name means ‘place across the water where the spirits are’.
Around 6000-7000 years ago, Wadjemup was connected to the mainland. It was considered an important meeting place and ceremonial site.
Like many parts of the country, post-colonial Wadjemup has a sad history, having been used as an Aboriginal prison. It wasn’t until the 20th century that it began to be seen as a place for recreation.
The earliest ‘discovery’ of the island by Europeans is believed to have been by the Dutch in the 17th century. William de Vlamingh gave the island its name, due to the abundance of quokkas – with them being endemic to Western Australia and so, unknown to Europeans, he mistook them for rats.
For more about Rottnest Island’s varied history, visit the Wadjemup Museum.
When is the best time to visit Rottnest Island?
Summer in Perth is long, stretching from November to March. This is when the island is at its busiest.
March is my favourite time to visit Rottnest Island (and Perth in general). It’s past peak tourist season and the temperatures are still lovely.
I recommend avoiding the island from mid-November to early December. It’s a popular destination for school leavers celebrating the end of exams – ‘Schoolies week’ is what we call it in Australia.
Unless you want to be sharing the space with drunk 18 year olds (and ah, realistically 17 year olds), don’t plan your trip for then.
Rotto can also get busy on Western Australian school and public holidays (some of which differ to other parts of the countries).
The island is also best avoided during the Rottnest Channel Swim (late February) and Port to Pub (March) – unless taking part in these events is of interest to you!
Outside of the holidays and Schoolies, Rottnest is great to visit any time of the year. Winters are cold, so the beaches may not be all that warm (and some facilities unavailable), but it’ll be much quieter.
Swings and roundabouts. Personally, I think winter in Australia is tops.
If you are visiting in peak season (summer), try to plan a midweek visit, to avoid the weekend crowds.
Discover the best time to visit Australia in general.
How to get to Rottnest Island
Getting to Rottnest Island is really easy. You can travel by boat, ferry, or air.
I recommend catching a ferry, as the least expensive option (which in itself, is not exactly cheap).
Ferries depart from Perth City, North Fremantle (Rous Head), Fremantle (Victoria Quay) and Hillarys Boat Harbour in Perth’s north. It’s a 25 minute trip from Fremantle and 45 minutes from Hillarys Boat Harbour.
Three operators currently service this route:
- Rottnest Express, who leave from Fremantle and Perth CBD
- Rottnest Fast Ferries depart from Hillarys Boat Harbour Ferry Terminal
- SeaLink Rottnest Island run routes from Fremantle and Perth CBD.
I highly recommend grabbing a ticket in advance, especially in peak summer season.
If you’re keen to see Rotto from the air, you can choose to arrive by seaplane.
Rottnest Air Taxi provide round trips for $105 each way (you could break it up by catching a seaplane there one way and the ferry back, or vice versa).
If you’ve got your sealegs, there’s also the option to charter your own boat and sail to the island.
To step foot on Rotto, you must pay an admission fee. This funds conservation efforts on the island and the upkeep of facilities.
If you arrive by ferry or commercial vessel, the fee is included in your fare.
Those travelling to Rotto by their own means will have to pay the fee online before arrival.
Looking for something a little different on your day trip to Rottnest Island? Check out these options.
➳ Rottnest Island seaplane & seafood lunch tour from Perth
Arrive on the island via seaplane, cruise along the coast on a luxury charter boat and enjoy a four course dining experience.
➳ Rottnest Island seafood cruise
Sip on local vino and beers, and enjoy a 7-course seafood degustation, as you sail past Rottnest Island’s stunning coastline.
Getting around Rottnest Island
There’s hardly any cars on Rotto. And despite it being a small island, you won’t cover a heap of ground by foot.
Bikes or Ebikes are your best option. You can book your bikes online and pick them up from Pedal and Flipper.
It’s also possible to hire them on the day. The shop has over 1,890 bikes, so they will have you covered. You can also order snorkelling gear from Pedal and Flipper.
Hire cost for a standard adult bike is $30 a day. Electric bikes can be hired for $71 a day, although they require a security deposit of $200. This is refundable upon return.
Remember to always wear a helmet – it’s a legal requirement in Australia. See other travel tips for Oz.
If bikes aren’t your thing, book onto a Segway Tour of the island.
Another option is the Island Explorer Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus.
As the name suggests, you can use this bus to jump on and off particular points in the island.
The bus operates from 8.30am–3pm at 30 minute intervals.
Tickets start from $25 and can be bought in advance online, or from the Visitor Centre on the day.
How long should you spend on Rottnest Island?
It’s really up to you. You can get a lot out of a day trip to Rottnest Island, covering a fair bit by bike or bus.
I recommend catching a morning ferry from Fremantle. They leave as early as 7.30am.
With the last ferry leaving at 6.30pm, it’ll give you plenty of time to explore the island on a day trip.
Keen to stay on? The island is well serviced, so there’s accommodation available – although as this is a popular weekend getaway from Perth, I recommend booking well in advance. Check out what’s on offer before you visit.
An advantage of this is being able to head out to the beach early in the morning, avoiding the crowds!
What do you need to bring to Rottnest Island?
If you’re going on a day trip to Rottnest Island, I recommend bringing:
- a comfortable backpack
- a beach towel
- change of clothes
- joggers, runners or sandals
- non-toxic sunscreen
- a hat
- reusable water bottle
Things to do during your day trip to Rottnest Island
Once you’ve arrived on the island, there’s plenty to do to keep you busy.
Cycle around, dip into the beaches, go for a snorkel and check out the local sights.
Here’s what you can cover on a day trip to Rottnest Island.
1. Meet the quokkas
I mean, this is mostly why you’re here, right? These cute little critters are international superstars for a reason.
There’s stacks of these marsupials on the island and they’re particularly abundant in the mid-to-late afternoon.
If you do choose to visit in autumn or winter (March to August), you may see young joeys hanging about in their mother’s pouches. Eek!
Please remember that quokkas are wild animals, so don’t try to pat them, as cuddly as they look, and do not feed them.
2. Jump on a free guided walking tour
Get your bearings during a day trip to Rottnest Island, on a guided tour led by knowledgeable volunteers.
There’s a range of tours on offer.
You can stroll through the historic settlement, hear about shipwrecks in the surrounding reef or jump on a tour dedicated solely to quokkas.
Interested? Head to the RVGA Information Booth at 2 Henderson Avenue for more information once you reach the island.
3. Follow the trail along Wadjemup Bidi
If you’re interested in exploring Wadjemup on foot but are keen to go it alone, tackle a walking trail along the Wadjemup Bidi.
This 45 kilometre long track is made up of five sections of varying lengths.
There’s important cultural and environmental landmarks to see, coupled with the island’s naturally beautiful scenery.
4. Cycle around the island
Or stick to the time-honoured way of experiencing Rottnest – via two wheels.
Once you’ve grabbed your hire bike, hit the road and get exploring.
The further you go out from the main hub of the island, the more sparsely populated the beaches will be.
It’s a really nice way to spend a day trip to Rottnest Island. You pedal around, deciding where to stop, which beach looks the most appealing.
Then, you park your bike, hit the waves and cool off. Jump back on and off you go.
5. Relax at the beach
This island has some of the most beautiful beaches and bays in Western Australia – to be honest, probably Australia in general.
There are 63 beaches and 20 bays to pick from, so you won’t have a shortage of spots to explore.
The Basin is the most popular swimming spot, being only 10 minutes from the main settlement area.
Make sure you do your bit to keep these pristine beaches beautiful. Leave no trace and take nothing with you.
Read up on our tips for beach safety in Australia before getting into the water.
6. Go snorkelling
Rottnest Island’s sheltered bays and clear waters are perfect for snorkelling. There’s fish, friendly rays, colourful coral and even a shipwreck to explore.
The Basin, Parakeet Bay and Little Armstrong Bay are the most popular places to snorkel. However, you can cycle between scenic swimming spots until you find one that works for you.
Parker Point and Little Salmon Bay have dedicated snorkel trains, which have information panels attached to the seabed, below the surface. Interactive learning at its best!
7. Skydive over Rottnest Island
Or ditch land and sea for air, to jump out of a plane and tandem skydive over the island.
I can’t think of a more picturesque setting to skydive – and Australia has quite a few contenders.
And as mentioned previously, you can take a joyride on a seaplane for a less terrifying aerial perspective of the island.
Where to eat on Rottnest Island
There are plenty of places to secure a feed or drink on Rottnest Island.
Grab a coffee on arrival from The Lane Cafe. Alternatively pick up a pie, sausage roll or sweet treat from Rottnest Bakery.
Opt for sourdough pizza at Frankie’s on Rotto or order plates of Southeast Asian-inspired cuisine at Lontara.
If you’re decided against a day trip to Rottnest Island, grab a cocktail from Pinky’s and take in the probably glorious sunset.
Essentials can be bought at Rottnest General Store.
Should you book on a guided tour to Rottnest Island?
By all means, book onto a guided tour if that’s how you like to roll. However, I don’t really think it’s necessary.
Getting there is pretty straightforward and you can see most of Rottnest Island’s attractions via bike or the bus.
The only reason I’d do a tour is if I wanted an added extra, like a cruise, delicious seafood lunch or jaunt in a seaplane.
I do recommend booking your ferry ticket in advance, especially during the busier warmer months and definitely if you’re heading there on a weekend.
And if you want to extend your day trip, check out accommodation options on Rottnest Island or stay locally in Perth.
If you’ve got the gear and are on a budget, consider camping on the island as a low impact option. Or go for a glamp in an eco-tent at Discovery Rottnest Island.
If you’re short on time, a day trip to Rottnest Island will allow you to see many of the island’s main attractions. Of course, you can always choose to stay a little longer (particularly if you’re there midweek or off-season) to soak up what this gorgeous island has to offer.
Spending some time in Perth? The city has some fantastic street art and kinda bizarre sculptures worth exploring. And for more on Australia, see my Australia Travel Guide and a list of Australian slang words.